It’s all too easy to be seduced by the bright lights and thick smoke of the Dutch capital, but once you’ve recovered from the sensory overload of Amsterdam, venture further afield. The Netherlands that you find outside the capital is a different place. It’s more relaxed, more cultured and friendlier too. The Hague is in fact the seat of the Dutch parliament; unusual in that it’s not the country’s capital. It’s perfect for a weekend break with stacks of culture, a very walkable centre and lots of snug pubs and cafes.
If you like art, The Hague has plenty to keep you busy. Perhaps the most famous museum the Mauritshuis is in the middle of a big refurbishment programme and closed to visitors until 2014. However many of the most famous works have found a temporary home at The Hague’s municipal museum (The Gemeentemuseum; 41 Stadhouderslaan).
Along with 17th century Dutch masterpieces usually on display at the Mauritshuis like Vermeer’s enigmatic Girl With A Pearl Earring, there’s also a great collection of canvases by famous Dutch modernist Mondriaan. If you like your senses confused a little more then a short walk away is the Escher museum (Lange Voorhout 74), housed in a former royal palace. Escher is famous for his dimension-defying sketches. Make sure to try the virtual reality headsets for the ultimate in Escher-befuddlemen.. There’s also lots of modern art at the nearby GEM museum of contemporary art (Stadhouderslaan 43) and the Photography Museum next door completes the picture.
A Taste of Asia
Prior to independence Indonesia was a Dutch colony and if you like the hot jumble of flavours that typify this cuisine then the Hague has several good restaurants to try. Dutch colonists were keen to try everything the Indonesian natives set before them and the result was the ‘rijsttafel’ or rice-table. It’s a vast buffet of small dishes served on hot plates in the centre of the table. Just take your pick from satays, noodles, beef, pork, chicken, eggs and vegetables. Keep an eye out for the bright red sambal sauce – it can be volcanically hot. Garoeda at Kneuterdijk 18a specialises in rijsttafels.
If your palate isn’t into spicy stuff then maybe a more traditional Dutch staple will slip down better? Raw herring is a local delicacy. To eat it the Dutch way, hold by the tail and slide down your throat, allowing on-lookers to make appropriate seal-barking noises. There’s a herring stall just outside the entrance to the parliament buildings (Buitenhof) and herring season starts in early June.
An easy excursion – just a quick jump on a tram – is the seaside suburb of Scheveningen. The main draw for culture creatures here is Sculptures by the Sea (Beelden an Zee; 1 Harteveltstraat), the only museum in the Netherlands that’s dedicated to sculpture. Inside this airy and attractive space you’ll find an array of sculpture ranging from the traditional to the distinctly abstract – but all of them represent the human form in one way or another.
If you want to see a different view of Scheveningen then head back to The Hague to the Panorama Mesdag (Zeestraat 65). You might think 3D cinema is a modern invention, but here you can see an early predecessor from the 1880s. The world’s largest circular painting depicts in perfect detail the seaside and town of 18th century Scheveningen.
Out on the Town in The Hague
Nightlife in The Hague is cosy and relaxed. There are several nightclubs, but the main draw is the plethora of smokey old ‘brown cafes’. These are snug old traditional pubs that usually serve food too and stay open late; some are relaxed and quiet, others raucously noisy. Just few favourites include: Schlemmer at Lange Houtstraat 17 for a few warm up drinks, Cocoon at Spui 6, with its funky bar upstairs and new dance floor in the basement and Café Boomers at Kazernestraat 116A for crazy local boozing till the very small hours.
5 things not to miss in The Hague
– Looking at the Girl with the Pearl Earring’s enigmatic stare – Vermeer’s remarkable canvas is surprisingly small in real life but totally enthralling.
– Swallowing raw herring. If you’re in town in June you have to sample this very Dutch delicacy. Hold it by the tail and swallow it down in one!
– Marvelling at 3D technology from the 19th century – the detail on the Panorama Mesdag is genuinely amazing
– Eating your fill at a rijsttafel. The Dutch do fantastic Indonesian food – just make sure you turn up hungry!
– Take a trip to the seaside – nearby Scheveningen is a great place for swimming in the sea in summer and walking along the prom and the pier too.
Ferries to Holland from Hull in the UK dock at Rotterdam just a 30 minute drive away from The Hague. If you’re driving from the south of England you’re better off doing a channel crossing and then driving from Calais. The journey time is about 3 hours.
If you plan to fly to Amsterdam, The Hague is a short 40 minute train ride away.